Friday, March 1, 2013

Sequestration/CR Next Step

As expected, sequestration hit today -- but as some of us have been saying for a while, the real meaningful deadline is March 27, when appropriations run out and a new Continuing Resolution is needed to avoid a government shutdown.

What that means right away is trouble for John Boehner's February talking point that the House had already passed a sequestration fix twice so the Senate needed to act next. It was always silly as a logical case (the House had acted twice in the expired 112th Congress, not the current 113th), but worked just fine as a political strategy for the time because Boehner had nothing to put on the House floor that could pass. However, now the agenda isn't an optional sequestration fix, in which the fallback if nothing passed had some appeal for conservatives, but a positive obligation to pass a CR that either will or won't continue sequestration.

This may not go well. On the one hand, it's very unlikely that Boehner will be able to begin the process by striking a deal with Democrats...because Republicans appear to be increasingly united on the proposition that negotiating with the Democrats is the worst possible idea, and so even if negotiations could succeed they might cost Boehner his job. On the other hand, it's going to be extremely difficult or Boehner to get any CR through his chamber. Without a deal, he'll almost certainly need to do it with Republican votes only. There's talk about simply extending the sequestration-level appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year (something that Nancy Pelosi has already vowed would get no Democratic support), but will defense hawks really agree to that? Don't forget -- there are perhaps a dozen and maybe more Members of the GOP conference who are going to be essentially nihilists on any appropriations bill, or at least strongly tend in that direction; no matter what Boehner puts on the floor is going to be too much spending for them.

Not only that, but relatively moderate Members know that they'll have to eventually support a compromise, and may not want to start by voting for something designed to attract the votes of the most conservative Republicans.

It's always hard to know how these things actually play out in advance, but a situation in which the House refuses to negotiate and also cannot pass their own CR is unlikely to work well for Republicans. Of course, that itself may be enough to get Members to reluctantly find something to support...but given the polling, it's likely that they'll be jumping on to a proposal that's less popular than what the president touts.

At any rate, the focus now should shift to the House of Representatives with the expectation that on appropriations they have to act first. That's what Boehner was trying to avoid all through February, but there's no way he can duck it now. They're going to have to try to pass something. And we'll soon find out if they can.


  1. Jonathan - I'd like to read your thoughts about Boehner's remarks that taxation is theft in the NY Times today.

    1. If taxation is theft, then taxing people to pay for $174,000 congressional salaries is the greatest theft of all...

  2. Hal Rogers seems optimistic about a CR that keeps the sequestration levels in place with some flexibility for the Pentagon to shift some funds ( Boehner also said after this morning's White House meeting that he expects to pass a CR next week.

    1. Jon always expects to pass legislation next week. He virtually never does.

      Adam Osborne had a better record getting product out by his promised dates.

  3. [a different Anonymous]

    Hey, J.B. - Matt Steinglass just asked about how to design better incentives than the sequester.


  4. Can Republicans pass any kind of a spending bill at all on only Republican votes? Can they even WRITE a spending bill at all?

    Boehner isn't standing on principle when he ignores all Obama offers, he knows that he can't find consensus on any funding bill, period.

    He can't even craft a republican only CR with enough cuts to satisfy the sequester. He can't, because to do so HE HAS TO SPECIFY ALL THOSE CUTS

    That is why the republicans have done virtually nothing about writing the funding bills for this year.

    Now Nancy Pelosi has told him that they won't lift a finger to help write those bills.

    Jon would like to punt, but it is hard when your own party has nailed both yur feet to the ground.


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